By some stroke of luck, hubby and I found ourselves in a week-long out of town trip in Ilocos coinciding with Holy Week, so we figured it would be nice to visit the old churches in the province for our annual Visita Iglesia. Our group (we were travelling with college friends) was based in Vigan so we started our Visita a few towns away and just worked our way back to Vigan.
First stop was the Shrine of the Santo Cristo Milagroso (Sinait Church), home of the miraculous Black Nazarene, locally known as Apo Lakay (Lord). This life-sized statue was found back in the 17th century, along with a statue of the Virgin Mary, floating along the shores of Sinait and Badoc towns. According to stories, people from Badoc were unable to move the Black Nazarene while the people of Sinait were unable to move the Virgin Mary but could move the Black Nazarene. Given this, the locals split the two statues between their towns and to this day, they are venerated as the towns’ respective patrons.
|Shrine of the Santo Cristo Milagroso, Sinait, Ilocos Sur|
Our second stop was the St. Mark the Evangelist Church in the town of Cabugao. This church was built around 1695 although it has gone through some major reinforcements and facelifts over the centuries. It’s a relief that the church’s bell tower is intact, unlike most of the old churches in the country.
|St. Mark the Evangelist Church, Cabugao, Ilocos Sur|
Up next on our itinerary was the church of St. William the Hermit (San Guillermo de Aquitania) in Magsingal. It is baroque in design, with buttresses to fortify the structure although from the facade, it looked quite modern due to its yellow paint.The first church was built in the 17th century although the present structure was built in the 19th century. It's included in the National Commission for Culture and the Arts as a national heritage site.
|St. William the Hermit Church, Magsingal, Ilocos Sur (pardon the low quality of the photo; made a mistake while clicking my trusty iphone)|
The interior of this church is probably my favourite among the churches we visited during our Visita, for the simple reason that it still uses an old retablo (wooden altar).
The retablo has three layers and eight niches which are occupied by statues of saints.
The church also has an old choir loft and a pulpit but are both no longer used.
If I favoured Magsingal's interior for its wood works, I would have to give my vote to the Sto. Domingo Church, our fourth stop, for most impressive exterior. More on the gothic side of the spectrum, I love the tiny turrets dotting the facade of the church.
|Sto. Domingo Church, Santo Domingo, Ilocos Sur. Built in the early parts of the 18th century.|
Our next church, San Ildefonso, looked deceptively modern, what with its bright beige and maroon paint but it is actually around 200 years old, having been built around the 19th century. But if you look closely at the side walls, you will notice the old brick tiles, prevalent of structures built during the Spanish era, peeking out.
|San Ildefonso, San Ildefonso, Ilocos Sur|
The next church on our list was the Sta. Catalina Church in Vigan, in honor of St. Catherine of Alexandria. According to the town’s official website, Spanish soldiers were venturing out of Ciudad Fernandina (the old name of Vigan) and came upon a spring to rest. They took turns drinking from the spring when an apparition appeared, and one of the soldiers recognized it as that of St. Catherine. From then on, the town had been known as Sta. Catalina.
I am not sure if the present structure is the same one built in the 18th century but I must say that the church grounds is one of the most well-maintained I have come across.
The seventh and last stop for our Visita was the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity (Nuestra Senora de Caridad) or St. Augustine Parish Church in Bantay, perhaps the most picturesque of the seven and one of the oldest in Ilocos, having been built in 1590.
Perched atop a small hill with its bell tower situated in a more elevated hill about thirty meters away, the church enjoys expansive grounds and allows for scenic photos to be taken.
|Me and Hubby|
|Shot taken from the bottom steps of the hill leading to the bell tower|
We were able to complete the seven churches even before we reached the Vigan Heritage Village but aside from the churches I listed above, there are many old churches to visit in the Ilocos province, starting with the Vigan Cathedral itself, which is part of the Unesco World Heritage site.
Sadly though, the buttresses of the church had been cemented and you can no longer see the original bricks.but here's a photo I took two years ago:
There are many old churches in Ilocos, since it was one of the earliest provinces reached by Spanish missionaries so we were able to visit two more churches.
One is the St. John the Baptist Church in San Juan (Lapog). Built in 1799 through voluntary services rendered by the locals, several townspeople were held hostage during World War II in this church by the Japanese. The Japanese threatened to kill everyone inside the church if no one will confess to a crime committed against one of their comrades. What this crime is, I am not too sure – one site says the Japanese were merely looking for the burial site of their comrade while others say the Japanese wanted to know who killed their comrade. In any case, one of the men, Constante Varilla Castro, admitted to the crime to spare the townspeople.
A historical marker now stands in the church grounds to commemorate Castro’s sacrifice.
About two hours away from Vigan is the town of Paoay, which is home to the second UNESCO Baroque church in the province, the San Agustin Church (Church of Paoay), built in 1704. It is arguably one of the best and most intricate churches I have ever seen, and certainly has the most imposing set of buttresses of all the churches I’ve visited in the country.
|Buttresses at the back of the church; there are 24 buttresses supporting the church, made up of coral rocks|
About two years ago, hubby and I were also able to visit two other churches, one of them also listed in the UNESCO Baroque Churches of the Philippines: the Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur, about thirty minutes from Vigan.
A much older church lies in Laoag City, capital of Ilocos Norte - the St. William's Cathedral. Surprisingly, this structure is actually older than the UNESCO churches I mentioned above, having been built in 1590 by the Augustinians.
The church is famous for its sinking bellfry, which you are likely to miss if you are not aware of it or don't know where to look, because it is located about 80 meters away and partially hidden from view by taller structures. So-called sinking because the tower sinks an inch or so a year due to a natural phenomenon called desertification, whereby the soil on which it stands is changed to sand due to the hot weather (yes, it is very hot in Laoag).